By Griffin Brammer, Newswire Live Show Manager
The food industry has always been equal parts complex and cutthroat, with a healthy dash of sexiness added for good measure. No one lets us forget this like Hollywood. And in the decade of subverting tropes for the sake of horror, it was no surprise that we finally got a fine-dining thriller a la The Menu. Skeptical as I was based on the premise, by the end I was starved for more.
The film follows Margot (Anya Taylor-Joy), a small town “calls-it-as-she-sees-it” type, as she’s whisked away to what is promised to be an unforgettable night at one of the world’s most exclusive restaurants by her gastronomy-obsessed boyfriend, Tyler (Nicholas Hoult). The restaurant, Hawthorne, is led by reclusive genius Chef Julian Slowick (Ralph Fiennes).
Now, of course, with this being a dark and gritty take on the restaurant industry, it should come as no surprise to audience members when Chef Slowick announces (fairly early on, too) that no one will leave the restaurant alive. As panic begins, so, too, does the plot of the movie.
The rest of the movie, without spoiling your appetite, intermingles Margot and the other patrons’ fights for survival with the normal dinner service. I’d be remiss if, at this point, I didn’t talk about one particular editing choice of this movie.
With every new course served comes a very tastefully crafted set of clips of Chef Slowick and his posse crafting and plating the dish, each time finished with a flourish and a title card of fancy script titling and explaining the dish to us common folk.
It’s all very “PR package promotional video,” but it has its role. With every new dish, we view Hawthorne and Chef Slowick closer and closer through Margot’s eyes, seeing the experimental horseshit she has to endure and pretend to understand. It also lends itself to some of the best jokes in the movie, so be sure to give everything a good read.
I’m happy to say that the style and sense of luxury found in these moments seep into the rest of the film. Everything from the set dressing to the camerawork has a luxuriousness and warmth to it that makes the Scandinavian minimalism of Hawthorne feel warm and inviting, quite literally keeping our palettes whetted for what’s to come next.
Much of cooking is chemistry, and the chemistry between Fiennes and Taylor-Joy is delectable. It’s this delicate yet complicated mix of untrustworthy ally and mortal enemy that’s executed quite well. With every biting quip thrown at one another, you’re also able to pick up on a note of respect one has for the other. I think a large part of this dynamic and why it works is that Taylor-Joy and Fiennes are no strangers to the dry style of humor that’s ever so present in this movie and so they are able to act on their strengths and give the audience some truly stellar moments.
However, after digesting this movie for a couple days, the biggest gripe I kept coming back to was the theme. It’s not subtle. In fact, it’s literally laid out on the table for you, but after seeing all the “ending explained” and “true meaning” content start to sprout its ugly head, I realized that is exactly the point.
For a film gilded with style and an A-list cast to be so blunt with its Philosophy 101 theme, The Menu is literally part of the menu. It is to cinephiles what Chef Slowick’s “breadless bread platter” was to the restaurant goers: purposefully pretentious with no substance. Every style choice was to cause a stir, to make people gawk, to build up some fake understanding to some made up meaning. The giant, shining theme — that people ruin art with a need for deeper meaning — was in plain view the whole time.Slowick welcomes Margot with a simple request: “Savor… but do not eat.” The same request has been given to us, the audience. But just like Margot, savoring leaves us “still fucking hungry,” and so The Menu invites us to truly feast on the arts, until there are no crumbs left.